Elf (film)

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For other uses, see Elf (disambiguation).
Theatrical release poster depicts a elf is standing between letters "e" and "f".
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jon Favreau
Produced by
Written by David Berenbaum
Narrated by Bob Newhart
Music by John Debney
Cinematography Greg Gardiner
Edited by Dan Lebental
Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • November 7, 2003 (2003-11-07)
Running time
96 minutes
  • United States[1]
Language English
Budget $33 million[2]
Box office $220.4 million[2]

Elf is a 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum. It stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, and Bob Newhart. It was released in the United States on November 7, 2003 by New Line Cinema. The story is about one of Santa's elves (Ferrell) who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father (Caan), spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes.

The film received positive reviews from critics and earned $220.4 million worldwide on a $33 million budget. It inspired the 2010 broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas.


On Christmas Eve in 1973, an orphaned infant boy stows away on Santa Claus' sack. When discovered back at the North Pole, he is adopted by Papa Elf. Papa Elf names his son Buddy.

Buddy grows up at the North Pole believing he is an elf, but due to his human size is unable to perform elf tasks. When Buddy accidentally learns that he is human, Papa Elf explains that he was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and was given up for adoption without Walter knowing. Susan died and Walter works at a children's book publisher in New York City. Buddy travels to find him, whom Santa indicates is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness.

Buddy has trouble acclimating to the customs of the human world. Buddy finds his father's office, but Walter has him ejected after Buddy mentions Susan Wells. After following a security guard's sarcastic suggestion to go "back to Gimbels" due to his elf outfit, the manager mistakes him for an employee at Santa Land. He meets Jovie, an unenthused employee to whom he is attracted. Knowing that Santa will arrive the next day, Buddy stays behind and spends the night decorating Santa Land (the north pole), and buys a nightie for Walter.

The next day, Buddy is appalled that the store's Santa is not real. He rips off the man's fake beard, causing them to fight. Buddy is arrested and Walter bails him out of prison. Walter takes him to the family's pediatrician for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is Walter's son. The doctor convinces him to take Buddy home to meet his step-mother, Emily, and 12-year-old half-brother, Michael. Walter and Michael are annoyed by Buddy's childlike behavior, but Emily insists that they take care of him until he "recovers".

Buddy helps Michael defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie out. Walter learns from his boss Fulton Greenway that his company is in financial trouble. Greenway organizes a book pitch for Christmas Eve, which Walter and his associates, Eugene and Morris, arrange a meeting with best-selling children's author Miles Finch to hire him.

On Christmas Eve, Buddy goes on a date with Jovie and wins her over. Buddy bursts into Walter's office during a meeting with Finch to tell Walter about his love, and mistakes Finch for an elf because of his dwarfism. Finch loses his temper and attacks Buddy before storming out, causing Walter to disown Buddy.

Eugene and Morris find a notebook Finch left that is filled with ideas for children's books. Walter pitches these ideas to Greenway, but Michael bursts in to tell Walter that Buddy ran away. Greenway refuses to reschedule, so Walter lets Greenway fire him.

Santa's sleigh crashes in Central Park, which attracts a large crowd. Buddy finds him and discovers that the sleigh's engine had broken off, meaning that it cannot fly without Christmas spirit. Walter and Michael find Buddy and apologize, and Buddy then takes them to meet Santa. Michael steals Santa's list and reads it in front of the gathered TV news cameras, while the Central Park Rangers, who never forgave Santa for putting them on the naughty list, chase his sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine.

Jovie leads the gathered people in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", helping raise enough Christmas spirit to partially power the sleigh. Walter is convinced by Michael to start singing, which restores enough Christmas spirit to allow it to fly.

By next Christmas, Walter has started his own publishing company with the first best-selling book titled Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures. Buddy and Jovie have a daughter named Susie, named after his biological mother. During the film's closure, they visit Papa Elf at the North Pole.



Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios.[3] The movie makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was also used.[4] Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer.[4] Buddy belches for twelve seconds, after drinking a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. The belch was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche.[5] Buddy starts singing in the middle of Santa-land at Gimbel's. The lyrics were not in the script and Will Ferrell made up the entire song on the spot.[6] Even though Buddy is an excellent gift wrapper, Will Ferrell is not and needed someone else to wrap all the gifts in the movie.[6] The film was not entirely shot in New York City; there are several scenes shot in Vancouver, and Coquitlam, British Columbia at Riverview Hospital.[4][7]


Jon Favreau is the film's director.

On June 9, 2003, it was announced that Jon Favreau would direct a 2003 American Christmas comedy film, titled Elf, about one of Santa's elves who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father, spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes; which would be released in cinemas on November 7, 2003 in the United States. Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki and Shauna Robertson produced it with the budget of $33 million and David Berenbaum wrote the film. It was announced that Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Michael Lerner, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, Peter Billingsley, Leon Redbone, Ray Harryhausen, Jon Favreau and Mark Acheson would star in it. New Line Cinema acquired distribution rights to it. John Debney would compose the music for it. Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions co-produced it. Jim Carrey was originally attached to portray Buddy in the film, but ultimately turned down the role.[8]


Elf grossed $173.4 million in North America and $47 million in other territories for a total gross of $220.4 million, against a budget of $33 million.[2] The film opened at number two at the US box office with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week.[9] It topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the UK it opened in second behind Love Actually.[10]


On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 84% based on 188 reviews and an average rating of 7/10. The site's consensus reading, "A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers."[11] On Metacritic it has a score of 64 out of 100 based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[12] Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars, calling it "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece."[13]


The film was nominated for nine awards and won two.[14]

2004 ASCAP award - Top Box Office Films (John Debney)
2004 Golden Trailer - Best Comedy
2004 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award - Favourite Movie
2004 MTV Movie Award - Best Comedic Performance (Will Ferrell)
2004 PFCS Award - Best Live Action Family Film and Best Use of Previously Published or Recorded Music
2004 Teen Choice Award - Choice Movie Actor - Comedy (Will Ferrell) and Choice Movie - Comedy
2005 Golden Satellite Award - Best Youth DVD

Critics' rankings[edit]

Elf is often ranked among the greatest Christmas films of all-time,[15][16][17][18] and since its release has joined the many films which air annually on television during the holiday season.

Home media[edit]

The film is available on DVD, VHS, and Blu-ray, the latter of which was released on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc.


Main article: Elf: The Musical

A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.

The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.[31]


The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the USA[32] and in October 2005 in the UK.[33] It was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011.[34] Having sold 695,000 copies in the United States, it is the second best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991, behind only The Polar Express.[35]

  1. "Pennies from Heaven" - Louis Prima
  2. "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
  3. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" - Lena Horne
  4. "Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus Party" - Ferrante and Teicher/Les Baxter
  5. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel
  6. "Jingle Bells" - Jim Reeves
  7. "The Nutcracker Suite" - Brian Setzer
  8. "Christmas Island" - Leon Redbone
  9. "Santa Baby" - Eartha Kitt and the Henri René Orchestra
  10. "Winter Wonderland" - Leon Redbone
  11. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - Eddy Arnold
  12. "Nothing from Nothing" - Billy Preston

The score to the film, composed and conducted by John Debney and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, was released by Varese Sarabande.[36]

Animated special[edit]

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas is an hour-long stop-motion animated musical television special based on the film and the musical of the same name. It stars Jim Parsons as Buddy, along with Mark Hamill as Walter, Kate Micucci as Jovie, Rachael MacFarlane as Emily, Max Charles as Michael, and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Greenway. Ed Asner also reprises his role as Santa. It was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and first aired on NBC on December 16, 2014. It uses songs from the musical.


  1. ^ "Elf". American Film Institute. Retrieved October 25, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c "Elf (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 7, 2016. 
  3. ^ Snipes, Stephanie (November 7, 2003). "How to create an 'Elf'". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved December 25, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Gary Susman (2013-12-24). "'Elf' at 10: Jon Favreau Reflects on Buddy's Magical Legacy | Movies News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  5. ^ "Maurice LaMarche interview on Talk Radio Meltdown - Explanation of Buddy the Elf's belch at 21:52". Talk Radio Meltdown. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Will Ferrell in 'Elf" Interview". Vimeo. Retrieved 2016-04-21. 
  7. ^ "Explanation of the sound effect". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Mullins, Jenna (18 December 2014). "NEWS/ 56 Facts You May Not Know About Your Favorite Holiday Films". E! News. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 7-9, 2003". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Elf beats Crowe at US box office". bbc.co.uk. BBC News. 16 November 2003. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  11. ^ "Elf at Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 31, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Elf". Metacritic. 
  13. ^ Emerson, Jim (2003-11-07). "Elf Movie Review & Film Summary (2003)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  14. ^ "Elf Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  15. ^ "Christmas Movie Rankings: 10 Best Christmas Movies". Heavy.com. 
  16. ^ "17 Favorite Christmas Movies". Huffington Post. December 24, 2012. 
  17. ^ Dave Infante (December 18, 2015). "Best Christmas Movies including Home Alone, Scrooged, Muppet Christmas Carol". thrillist. 
  18. ^ "The 10 Greatest Christmas Movies Of All-Time, According To British People". cinemablend.com. 
  19. ^ "The 30 Best Christmas Movies Ever". empireonline.com. Bauer Consumer Media. December 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  20. ^ "Merry Christmas! The best Christmas movies ever". Daily News New York. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  21. ^ "Top 10 Christmas Movies". About.com. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  22. ^ Reynolds, Simon (December 19, 2011). "Muppet Christmas Carol tops Digital Spy favourite Christmas film poll". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  23. ^ Hughes, Mark. "Elf #7 Forbes best christmas movies of all time". 
  24. ^ "Newsday Elf 7th best christmas film". 
  25. ^ "Guardian Greatest christmas movies Elf #4". HanMan. 
  26. ^ "Chicago tribune #17 elf greatest christmas film of all time". HanMan. 
  27. ^ "SFC Elf #4 Greatest christmas movie of all time". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  28. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (2011-12-26). "Entertainment Weekly Greatest xmas movies of all time Elf #4". 
  29. ^ "Elf #3 total film greatest xmas film of all time". 
  30. ^ Couch, Aaron. "Elf #6 Greatest xmas film of all time". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  31. ^ Hetrick, Adam."Beth Leavel, Mark Jacoby and George Wendt to Star in Elf – The Musical on Broadway" playbill.com, August 11, 2010
  32. ^ "Elf Soundtrack". Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  33. ^ "Elf Original Soundtrack". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  34. ^ "American certifications – Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  35. ^ Caulfield, Keith (December 6, 2014). "Billboard 200 Chart Moves: 'Guardians' on Cassette Cashes In". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  36. ^ "Hollywood Studio Symphony". Retrieved 1 January 2010. 

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